Election 2010

Krystal Ball, Nazi Re-enactor Photos Are Cautionary Tales

Krystal Ball

Democratic House candidate Krystal Ball.  Adrin Snider/AP Photo hide caption

toggle caption Adrin Snider/AP Photo

Here's a piece of unsolicited advice to potential congressional candidates: It's probably not wise to have yourself photographed while you're wearing the uniform of a member of the Nazi SS.

Or while you're dressed in a sexy outfit and pretending to do something that I won't describe further to a man dressed as a reindeer. (Gawker, among others, published the photos which we, at NPR, can't.)

Both candidates, Rich Iott, a Republican running for a Ohio House seat and Krystal Ball, a Democrat seeking a Virginia House seat, and both facing incumbents, seem like something of a matched set.

Both protest that the earlier photos of them are being taken out of context.

That may be. But, as a Chicago politician once said: "Politics ain't beanbag." If you give your opponents a club to beat you over the head with, don't be surprised when they use it.

Iott has said he was a military re-enactor who has also played a Civil War soldier and that he wasn't making a political or ideological statement.

That may be true. But for many a Baby Boomer or older voter, seeing someone dressed as a Nazi SS soldier is so jarring and disturbing, it's hard to get past.

Ball, meanwhile, has expressed outrage that the photos of her with her ex-husband at a holiday party were first posted on the Internet by a conservative blogger.

She has made something of a feminist argument that the photos are being used to diminish her candidacy as a woman although it's really difficult to imagine that a male politician in similar photos would be faring any better.

The reality is that images are just too powerful, especially photos that show someone doing something that may have fit the moment where the images were made but that are embarrassing or prone to be misunderstood or distorted when later viewed.

The problem for Ball and Iott at this point is that the photos will now dominate much of the time remaining before Election Day.

Also, voters will have a lot of trouble hearing their explanations because the pictures speak so loudly they drown out the candidates' words.

The lessons to be learned from Ball and Iott's troubles are only going to grow increasingly important for those coming of age in the Facebook era.

It is now almost too easy for millions of people, especially young ones, to share photos with the world, knowingly or not.

As the case of the two would-be members of Congress amply illustrates, that isn't always for the best.



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